Listen and Learn

It's curious to me that I love podcasts so much, because I have only listened to two audio books in my life. I love to read hardback, paper hardback books. But, a podcast is not a book, it's an art form unto itself. Because of podcasts like This American Life, The TED Radio Hour and 99% Invisible, I believed that the best are well-produced: with a central theme, integrated sound bites, interview segments and narrative segue ways; Not just people talking for an hour without any preparation or editing. Then I heard SpyCast, Covert Contact and Pod Save America. I'm sure they're edited to remove burps and sirens, but they are fairly straightforward interviews or unscripted conversation, and they're completely amazing. So really, whatever works! These are a few of my favorite listenings... they are sort of in order of current most favorite per category.


  • SpyCast 
    "Each week, the International Spy Museum offers a new SpyCast featuring interviews and programs with ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars. SpyCast is hosted by Dr. Vince Houghton, historian and curator at the International Spy Museum. Dr. Houghton specializes in intelligence, diplomatic, and military history, with expertise in the late-WWII and early-Cold War eras."
  • Intelligence Matters 
    "In Intelligence Matters, former acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell, speaks with top leaders of the U.S. intelligence community as they reflect on their life, career and the critical roles they play in shaping national security policies ... Sponsored by Raytheon, making the world a safer place." The Raytheon ads are creepy as hell, but this is a deeply legit podcast. Total wonk.
  • Covert Contact: The Blogs of War Podcast 
    "Covert Contact covers the key national security, intelligence, and technology stories that are shaping our world."
  • Hackable 
    Hosts: "Geoff Siskind, digs into the minds of cyber criminals with cybersecurity expert, and Bruce Snell, giving us an in-depth view of the vulnerabilities we face so we can stay observant, and out of the hacker’s path."
  • The Cipher Brief 
    "The Cipher Brief is a digital, security-based conversation platform that connects the private sector with the world`s leading security experts. We deliver a relevant analysis of news and events that helps readers accurately anticipate and safely navigate the complex, unstable, global security environment. The Cipher Brief was founded by former CNN Intelligence Correspondent Suzanne Kelly on the belief that reporting on the latest security breaches or global security issues alone won`t always help find solutions to the bigger problems. Engaging the private sector in a solutions-based conversation is what moves the ball down the field."


  • Slow Burn 
    This is a series podcast that is good to listen to in order. Season One is about Watergate. This is one of the best podcasts I've ever had the good fortune to listen to. Specifically, it tells the story of Watergate from the perspective of the people who lived through it and what it was like not knowing how it would all turn out... a thing many of us living in America, and the world, can relate to with regard to Trump, election meddling, the Mueller investigation, etc. Season Two is expected on Aug. 8, 2018... about the Clinton Impeachment!
  • RadioLab: More Perfect 
    This is a series podcast that is good to listen to in order. "From the producers of Radiolab, a series about how the Supreme Court got so supreme."
  • Pod Save America 
    "Four former aides to President Obama — Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor — are joined by journalists, politicians, comedians, and activists for a freewheeling conversation about politics, the press and the challenges posed by the Trump presidency."
  • Civics 101 
    Short episodes on singular topics like: CIA, Supreme Court, the electoral college, nuclear weapons, welfare, super PACs, etc.
  • The Ezra Klein Show 
    "Ezra Klein gives you a chance to get inside the heads of the newsmakers and power players in politics and media. These are extended conversations with policymakers, writers, technologists, and business leaders about what they believe in and why."
  • FiveThirtyEight Podcast 
    "Nate Silver and the FiveThirtyEight team cover the latest in politics, tracking the issues and 'game-changers' every week." It can be a little cacophonous, but it's informative and incisive in a way my own mind is nowhere near, so I deal with it.
  • Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air 
    "...a podcast where he weighs in on the issues of the week and interviews guests in the worlds of politics, entertainment, culture, sports, and beyond."
  • Feminasty 
    "...a podcast about feminism, resistance, and revolution in Trump's America."
  • With Friends Like These 
    Ana Marie Cox, "...talks to liberals and conservatives, religious leaders, writers, activists, and people you should know for a show that's about listening instead of arguing." I recently unsubscribed from this one. She has good guests sometimes, but the talking is a little too - not woowoo - but like, feels and processing and triggers and emotionally taxing things like that. I'm not in the mood.


  • Everything is Alive 
    "Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. But aside from the fact that things can talk, it's nonfiction: everything the objects tell us is true." I've only listened to the first episode of this podcast, but the second one just came out (right before I wrote this.) I heard the first episode as part of an episode of 99% Invisible, after which, 99pi host Roman Mars interviewed host Ian Chillag. It was so fascinating to learn the backstory of how it was made plus true circumstances referred to in the interview, I had to listen a second time. It was a revelation. It's so great! When I got the alert on my phone that the new episode is out, I squealed out loud, "YAY!!!"
  • Stuff They Don't Want You To Know 
    Two guys talk about things that used to be conspiracy theories but later turned out to be true, like Disney buying up entire towns and COINTELPRO. This is one of the few podcast that, the more I listen to it, the more I like it.
  • 99% Invisible 
    About, "the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world." Host Roman Mars has the most soothing voice I've ever heard. Also, every episode is fascinating, even when you think you wouldn't maybe care about the topic... there's a reason they chose to develop it into an episode.
  • The Allusionist 
    "A podcast about language by Helen Zaltzman." She's hilarious and British.
  • TED Radio Hour 
    Each episode has a general theme like fear, happiness, leadership, or work. There are ~2-4 stories with excerpts from a TED talk and an interview with the speaker. Excellently produced.
  • This American Life 
    My first podcast; the one that started me on the glorious road of story listening and learning. The stories I've heard here have changed my life, marked me, opened my eyes, broken my heart and healed it back up. Truly grateful this exists.
  • Astronomy Cast 
    By Frasier Cain, who publishes Universe Today, and his guest host Dr. Pamela Gay, who will unperturbedly mispronounce at least one totally ordinary word in every episode. (It's maddening when she pronounces "material" as "meturial".) But, I love this podcast nonetheless. I've been listening since 2010 when I lived at the Allen Telescope Array in N. California, where learned that I can understand science and am not inherently limited in my ability to know things. Astronomy Cast is nicely organized: single topic, fairly deeply explored and usually just about 30 minutes. 
  • How I Built This with Guy Raz 
    Stories about and interviews with self-starters, entrepreneurs.
  • You Are Not So Smart 
    "A celebration of self-delusion." Genius. Not regularly updated, but there are some gems. I've even re-listened to some episodes because they were dense but fascinating.
  • Hidden Brain 
    "About Unconscious Human Behavior, and Biases that direct our Relationships" I have loved many episodes of this podcast, but after awhile, it becomes more tiring than inspiring to pick apart every aspect of mentality, psychology, jealousy, assumptions, fears, love, regret, ugh... too many feelings!
  • Invisibilia 
    "...explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior—things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions."
  • Science Friday 
    Y'know, science. Ira's voice is a bit of a challenge for me, but sometimes the topic is worth it.